Q&A: A conversation with Slalom Dallas' Paul Shultz
November 14, 2014
Paul Shultz heads Slalom’s Dallas office. He spoke with us about why building a strong work culture is his No. 1 priority, and why great leaders need to remember they can’t do everything on their own.
Update: since this article was published Shultz has become Slalom's south region general manager.
What do you think makes Slalom different from other consulting firms?
I think what makes Slalom different, particularly for experienced people, is this wonderful “people care about each other” attitude.
It’s almost like a society of consultants inside of Slalom that have banded together around the fact that we’re taking care of each other and having great work lives. And that translates into great client experiences and great activities for communities, too.
I think it’s a key difference, and it shows up in the way we do our work and shows up in the effect we have on our clients.
It seems like it could be challenging to commit to building that kind of culture. How do you maintain that?
It has to start at the top. For me, it’s job No. 1. I wake up every morning thinking about the people in our organization and how I can help them find what it is they want to do.
Part of Slalom’s culture around not traveling means that you can run into your clients at the grocery store. How does it affect you to know that your clients are also your neighbors?
It does yield interesting interactions in all kinds of places in the community, for not only Slalom people but their extended families as well. Soccer fields, grocery stores, places of worship—fill in the blank.
I caution people on two fronts about it. One, it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of these wonderful networks where people experience us and want to know what makes us tick.
The second challenge, though, is that every time someone walks out the door and says in public, “I’m a Slalom Consulting person,” our brand is on the line. So I ask them to hold dearly to that.
Tell me some of the most exciting and ambitious projects that this office is doing right now.
We are (working) with different clients that seem to be re-platforming their businesses, from the technology and the products that they are developing and selling through the processes (with) which they’re delivering customer service.
Define for me what you mean by re-platforming.
(It’s) really rebuilding the technologies to modern technical platforms (and) modern customer service platforms and experiences, and kind of just raising their game.
That sounds like a lot of fun.
It’s been good for us, because it cuts across many of the disciplines and practices that we have. You need great project leaders. You need good business analysts, certainly application development and mobile people. You need some great user experience and people that can test, and some that can help the humans go through the change process.
So we can assemble all those skill sets and be quite effective in delivering a team that can take care of the whole thing, soup to nuts.
Let’s talk about you for a while. I’m curious how you ended up with a career in consulting.
I originally joined the predecessor to Andersen Consulting and then, after a bit there, spent 11 years as a CIO in an energy company. (I also had) a fair amount of concentration in consumer products companies, and particularly those that manufactured and distributed food and beverage.
I think consulting was just a natural draw for me -- getting up in the morning and being able to think about a group of people that are highly motivated and energized and fun to hang around. I don’t think you can find that every day.
You have such a diverse history. How does that help you when you’re working in the consulting field?
Having been a CIO, I understand what it’s like to turn the lights on and sit on the other side of that desk. It’s been a big advantage to me (to have) a good network of those people in my past. And I like dealing with CIOs, and I like dealing with folks who have responsibility for the revenue side of a financial statement, those in customer sales and marketing.
Tell me about something that happened in your life that taught you something about leadership.
Back in my Andersen days we had a gentleman that died, and I was just trying to kind of work through what we’re supposed to do as leaders and how we’re supposed to deal with it.
(One of the partners) kind of drops his glasses and looks at me, and he says, “Son, there’s no entry in the personnel manual on how you deal with this, or when someone sits across from you and says, ‘My wife has cancer,’ or, ‘My son has a drinking problem.’ There’s no pages that you’ll find to do that, so you need to find those people around you that you can go and talk to.”
I think that lesson was so crisp (to) me, that you just can’t do all this on your own. You’ve got to have great folks around you.
I think it was the best lesson in leadership I ever had, and I’ve tried to live that way ever since and, frankly, offer myself up to others as one of those that have seen enough and been around enough that I’m a good conversationalist when you need to have one as well.
What would you do if you weren’t a consultant?
I’d like to be a maître d’ in a nice restaurant, or maybe patrol the golf course and keep people on pace.
Why a maître d’ in a nice restaurant?
I like to eat and drink, and I love great food, and I’m a pretty good cook. But I think it’s kind of the ultimate host’s job, you know, to take people and help them have a great, comfortable time.